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Why bother about a marketing software trend?

The iPhone was released in 2007. But as at 2016, mobile-friendly websites were still being touted as a “marketing software trend.”

This lag—between introducing a new technology and its adoption—is common in the marketing world. There’s a certain logic: you don’t want to invest millions of dollars in a trend that fizzles out. (I’m looking at you, metaverse marketing).

Still, no one wants their brand to show up last to the party. Late adoption means brands leave money on the table and look out of touch.

In this article, I’ll share the marketing software trends we think deserve investment and attention. AI makes a number of appearances throughout this list, but you’ll also find emerging trends that you might not have expected. I’ll also explore what you can do as a marketing leader to capitalize on each trend best.

1. The Rise and Rise of AI

Is there a single more impactful component to marketing in the 2020s than artificial intelligence?

You’ll see plenty of other contenders on this list—including the idea that, in the face of changing technology, the best course of action is to focus on marketing fundamentals—but AI is having such a disruptive impact that seemingly every corner of the martech landscape has been influenced by it.

In fact, projections show the value of AI in marketing reaching $107+ billion by 2028.

Marc Andreessen, cofounder of venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, observed that “software is eating the world.” But we may now be entering an era in which AI eats into the vast number of martech startups, some of which are essentially a pretty user interface with an API connection to OpenAI and other similar LLMs.

Scott Brinker at ChiefMartec foresees that trend looking something like this:

Look for the growth of traditional SaaS marketing apps to slow in the coming years while AI-focused apps dominate. Pecan.ai is a good example of what's to come: it’s a “Predictive GenAI” tool that uses AI to help data analysts make predictions without knowing how to code.

For example, you can upload a spreadsheet with account-level details and quickly predict the likelihood of customer churn for each account.

Marketers don’t need convincing that AI is the next big thing.

Meanwhile, those who are slower to adopt AI are feeling held back: 50% of marketers say that a lack of AI implementation is making it harder to reach their goals.

Next steps: While it’d be helpful to run a comprehensive audit of opportunities to use AI across your martech stack, that could turn into a gargantuan task (There’s no shortage of opportunities to infuse your marketing processes with AI).

Instead, look for low-hanging fruit. Identify high ROI areas—like predictive analytics or ad spend optimization—and implement changes in batches, assessing the impact as you go.

2. Marketing Personalization to Reach New Heights

Yes, marketing personalization has been on every digital marketing trends list since 2011. But stay with me: now that AI and marketing software have completed their full-blown merger, personalization is more impactful than ever.

Personalization is as appealing to consumers as it ever was.

  • 61% of customers feel like most companies treat them like a number
  • More than half are annoyed by lazy marketing practices like showing ads to customers for items they’ve already purchased
  • Gen. Z and millennial customers are likely to ignore communications entirely if they’re not sufficiently personalized.

The eventual outcome of impersonal marketing? Consumers will vote with their feet by breaking up with brands that don’t personalize their marketing.

Although companies want to give customers the hyper-personalization they desire, there are obstacles. Chief among them is the challenge of actually making sense of the massive quantity of data businesses collect for personalization.

Improved martech tools—especially AI-powered products—are quickly chipping away at these obstacles, making it simpler to do things like segment customers based on interests or personalize the user experience based on past interactions.

Next steps: It’s time to take personalization seriously. Start by prioritizing data collection and beefing up your customer profiles; then, use AI tools to turn that data into insights and deliver a more personalized experience across email, ads, and other customer-facing channels.

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3. A Return to Marketing Basics

Despite the relentless march of technology—like new martech products, AI, and machine learning—some things never change. A return to the basics might not sound like a “trend,” but in the face of seemingly yearly paradigm shifts in the world of marketing, it’s more important than ever.

Here are three timeless marketing pillars to keep in mind as technology advances at breakneck speed over the coming years.

First is human psychology. Consumer behavior is driven by core desires, fears, and motivations; it doesn’t matter whether you’re marketing via augmented reality or direct mail.

Understanding what drives people, what they value, what they fear, and what they aspire to is timeless.

One way to use this is through emotional storytelling—no matter the medium or the platform, telling a compelling story that evokes emotion is a powerful way to engage an audience.”

Second, audience research. There’s no substitute for truly knowing your customer—though how you achieve that goal may take different forms, from 1:1 interviews to crunching behavioral data. No matter the number of cutting-edge martech SaaS apps you throw at a problem, if you don’t understand your audience, you’re at risk of heading 100 miles per hour in the wrong direction.

Third, relationships. While getting caught up in AI and automation technologies is easy, those tools should complement human-to-human interactions—not replace them.

Prospects and customers will always value personal connections, and marketers will need to find ways to balance AI with human interaction to build and maintain these relationships.

Next steps: Your business should become more efficient as you implement the latest and greatest marketing tech. That’s a good thing—but an ever-expanding martech stack can also cause businesses to get stuck in “tinkering mode,” obsessing over efficiency and cost savings while ignoring strategic misalignments and opportunities. 

To avoid this, take time to periodically revisit the fundamental principles of marketing: human psychology, understanding your customer, and relationship building.

4. Omnichannel Experiences that Merge Online and Offline

In Q2 of 2020, US retailer Target had its best quarter ever: overall sales increased 24.3%, and digital sales shot up 195%. What happened? The obvious answer is the pandemic, which drove huge numbers of shoppers online. But that doesn’t explain why Target enjoyed greater growth than its competitors.

The real story here is Target’s focus on omnichannel experiences. For example, they focused on making it easier to buy products with their app and pick them up in-store. Omnichannel customers are worth 4x more than in-store customers and a staggering 10x more than digital-only customers.

The path forward for retailers is relatively straightforward: be like Target. But omnichannel is also crucial for online-only businesses and software vendors, especially because omnichannel customers have a 30% higher lifetime value

For SaaS providers, a multichannel approach means creating a coherent experience, no matter the platform. Customers should be able to jump from SMS to email, chatbot to mobile, without losing the context of their conversation or transaction. If you do this successfully, you’ll see a boost in customer satisfaction, loyalty, and brand perception.

Next steps: Your job is to make the customer experience seamless across platforms. But be warned: the behind-the-scenes processes to achieve this will be messy. 

You’ll need to unify data and interactions across channels, map the customer journey, and integrate all your platforms. If you’re questioning whether it’s all worth it, here’s a reminder: businesses with omnichannel engagement drive an 80% higher rate of incremental customer visits.

5. AI-Powered Marketing Automation

Early versions of digital marketing automation were rudimentary; they could do things like segment users based on which product they were interested in or add “Hi, [name]” to the start of an email. 

While segmentation and personalization improved over time, getting the right message to the right customer required a lot of manual planning and workflow design.

Today, AI has changed the game. 88% of marketers who use AI say they’ve used it to personalize the customer journey across multiple channels. Many marketers use AI to make ads, chatbots, and product recommendations more relevant and to improve automation over time via better segmentation and analytics.

Next steps: If you’re looking to add AI to your marketing automation mix, start by looking for the tasks where AI can have the greatest ROI impact (for example, optimizing your marketing funnel or supercharging your analytics). 

You’ll also want to equip your team with generative AI content tools and AI-powered marketing campaign software so they can focus less on repetitive tasks and more on strategic ones.

6. Digital Brand Management

In 2017, taxi drivers serving New York City’s airports organized an hour-long strike protesting recent immigration policies. Uber allowed its drivers to continue serving the airport during the protest, but social media users felt Uber was profiting at the expense of the taxi drivers. 

Uber’s brand reputation was already shaky, and this incident led hundreds of thousands of users to delete the app.

In part, digital brand management is the art of managing crises like the one Uber faced. But it’s also about cultivating trust more broadly: protecting a brand’s relationship with customers when times are good and restoring it when times are tough. The primary factors driving brand trust are value, quality, service, reliability, and data security.

Since 4 in 5 customers need to trust a brand before making a purchase, these factors are worth considering. You’ll notice that two of the top three drivers of brand trust relate to data privacy; this is especially crucial for SaaS companies, and we’ll cover it more in-depth shortly in a separate section.

Next steps: As a marketing leader, you are responsible for managing brand perception. Use digital brand management and social listening software to facilitate this task. You should also focus on long-term efforts to boost customer trust, such as ensuring data privacy, responding to customer feedback, and improving service.

7. Increasing Focus on Big Data and Data Management

You can’t go far in the world of Big Data before the numbers involved start to escape the limits of human comprehension. 

Some are easy enough: a gigabyte is roughly equal in size to Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, while all the X-rays stored in a hospital are likely to add up to around a terabyte. 

A zettabyte, though, is truly mind-boggling, approximating as much information as there are grains of sand on Earth. In 2014, there were about 12 zettabytes of data globally; today, a mere decade later, that number has increased by 11x.

With the global volume of data doubling every few years, it makes sense that data management is an increasing preoccupation in the business world. It also makes sense that marketing leaders would turn to marketing software to make sense of it all. 

But what do marketers stand to gain from focusing on data?

Amazon is one example of a data-driven strategy that happens at the enterprise level. It changes its pricing millions of times per day across the products it lists; this dynamic pricing strategy is affected by a wide range of data, from competitors’ prices to changing demand and stock availability. 

But even if you’re not a massive retailer like Amazon, strategically analyzing user-generated data gives you options: you can predict trends, get customer insights, more accurately segment your audience, and take action based on real-time analytics.

Next steps: With 77% of businesses facing data quality issues—and a full 91% saying that those issues are impacting their company’s performance—your first task as a marketing leader is to ensure data accuracy. 

You’ll also want to select a marketing analytics platform that makes your data easily accessible. The latest analytics tools allow you to interact with your data using natural language (i.e., “Which were the top three customers by revenue last quarter?”) rather than tediously generating custom reports.

8. Increased Adoption of Marketing Software

It’s hard to believe it now, but back in 2011, there were just 150 martech products in existence. Today, the industry has exploded to over 14,000

Some of these are small SaaS players serving niche markets. But much of this growth represents steadily higher demand: first, businesses initially switched to cloud-based software; then, they regularly expanded their martech stacks with specialized software.

The most widely adopted marketing tool is customer relationship management (CRM) software. 61% of marketing leaders report it as a core tool in their martech stack. Other essential software includes:

By adopting marketing software, marketers can automate more processes and collect more customer data than ever before.

Despite the widespread adoption of martech software, problems remain:

  • Martech stacks are too big. (We’ll discuss this further in the next section.)
  • Marketing leaders also report that data isn’t normalized across systems,
  • Their martech tools don’t integrate with one another.
  • And the data they’re relying on is also often old or outdated.

Next steps: Make sure your marketing team knows how to get the most out of the martech software you already have. 33% of marketing leaders say their martech stack has features they don’t use, meaning they’re not getting the full potential out of the software. 

Good and constant training can avoid this outcome. You’ll also want to review the latest marketing technology regularly: thousands of new products launch each year, and some of the more niche ones may be better suited to your needs than what you currently use.

9. Consolidation of the Martech Stack

You might be surprised to see “martech stack consolidation” as a trend, given the thousands of new martech products released yearly. 

But there’s also a growing awareness that martech stacks are getting out of hand. Large companies with 10,001+ employees have an average of 664 martech tools; even smaller companies with less than 500 employees average 172 pieces of marketing software.

Why does the size of your martech stack matter?

Too much software can result in:

  • Siloed data
  • Redundant efforts
  • Extra training
  • And unnecessary subscription costs.

Plus, integrating 300 martech products together is harder than integrating 30. It’s also nearly impossible to take full advantage of hundreds of pieces of software; one survey found that, on average, marketers use just 42% of their martech stack’s capabilities.

Next steps: As companies grow, it’s easy for martech stacks to grow along with them. That’s not necessarily a problem, but you need to be meticulous about organizing your stack—and relentless about cutting software when you spot redundancies.

Take time to audit your current martech stack, dropping tools that aren’t widely used and training your team to maximize the potential of what remains. (Looking for inspiration? Check out our example of the perfect martech stack).

10. The Rise in Social Commerce

Marketers have long known that the fast-growing social media app TikTok is a great place to go viral. 

But did you know that it’s also where an increasing percentage of online sales happen? 43% of Gen Z consumers start their product searches on TikTok; overall, 18% of all online sales happen through social media. 

This online sales category is known as social commerce, and it’s expected to surpass $1 trillion in revenue by 2028.

While social commerce is dominated by brands targeting Gen Z, the generation gap is widely misunderstood: 23% of social buyers are between the ages of 25 and 34, while 33% are over 44 years old. 

That means even brands with a more mature target audience might be leaving money on the table if they don’t have a plan for social commerce.

Next step: Take stock of the social media platforms used by your audience and investigate their commercial potential. 

Look for ways to tie social commerce into your existing social media strategy; getting started can be as simple as enabling the eCommerce features of your social accounts and then exploring strategies like targeted ads and micro-influencer marketing partnerships to drive sales.

11. Increased Concerns about Consumer Privacy

When it comes to digital privacy, consumers are skeptical that businesses have their best interests at heart. With good reason: bombshell revelations like Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which data from 50 million Facebook profiles was harvested, have shattered trust. 

And even when businesses have good intentions, hacks and data breaches are increasingly common.

In 2022, over one-third of consumers said they had changed from one provider to another over privacy concerns. That means that data security is now a competitive advantage: if you can convince customers that you take data privacy seriously, your reputation and retention are likely to get a boost. 

To soothe customers’ privacy worries, consider regularly reminding them to tweak their privacy settings, email privacy updates, and ask for consent before personalizing your website.

Keep in mind that consumers care more about certain types of data. Many people feel comfortable sharing their gender and ZIP code, for example, but most are reluctant to share more intimate details like their real-time location and social media activity. (Consumers are most sensitive about sharing recorded conversions).

Various regulatory frameworks have cropped up to protect consumer privacy, most notably the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) and the CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act). A total of more than 120 countries have passed privacy laws for data protection. Ignoring these privacy regimes can lead to millions of dollars in fines—on top of the loss of trust that comes from customer privacy concerns.

Next step: If you operate in an area covered by the GDPR or CCPA, your business should already be focused on privacy. But it might be worth going above and beyond regulatory standards. 

Investigate your customers’ expectations: if releasing a privacy pledge or reminding customers to update their privacy settings can help you build trust and gain a competitive advantage, the effort will be well worth it.

Marketing trends change fast. Two decades ago, businesses were scrambling to build their social media presence for the first time; a decade ago, “mobile-first” was the buzzword of the era as companies worked to update their web presence for smartphones.

On the surface, this year’s list of trends contains plenty of repeats from the past: personalization, omnichannel marketing, automation, and big data.

But AI has supercharged each of these trends. For example, with the latest AI martech tools, you no longer have to be a data analyst or programmer to crunch data and make predictions; instead, you simply upload a spreadsheet and ask a question using natural language.

Still, the human element remains as important as ever. And by returning to timeless marketing principles like understanding human psychology, building relationships, and knowing your audience, you’ll be better prepared—no matter which trends come and go.

Ready for more intel on the latest marketing developments? Check out our guides to social media marketing trends and marketing trends podcasts.

And to ensure you stay updated as marketing trends change, subscribe to The CMO newsletter for insights into the latest technologies, industry updates, and marketing strategies.

Ryan Kane
By Ryan Kane

Ryan Kane has been researching, writing about and improving customer experiences for much of his career and in a wide variety of B2B and B2C contexts, from tech startups and agencies to a manufacturer for Fortune 500 clients.